What’s in a name? Life, luck, and Derbyshire mine and sough names

By Carry van Lieshout

Beans and Bacon Mine, Horse Buttock Mine, Stop Thief, Hie-thee-home, Danger Level, Peace Forever: these are just some of the many evocative names of old Derbyshire lead mines and soughs that I encountered in my research. Robert Macfarlane’s recent book on the relation of landscape and language, Landmarks (2015), celebrates the idiosyncrasies of regional words for particular natural phenomena and features. The Derbyshire landscape is full of such unusual place names emerging from its mining heritage, which evoke a sense of people’s relationships with the landscape and their workplace, as well as with the unusual and unfamiliar spaces of the underground world.

While there were many mines that were simply given the name of their owner, or were named after local features or landmarks, others provide a glimpse into the lives of those who named them. Some mines reflect the everyday experiences of the miners, such as Dirty Face mine (and Dirty Face sough), or the challenges of working underground, as evidenced by the Danger Level, and Watergrove, which suggests a mine in need of drainage. The Lousey Level on the other hand seems to indicate an occasion where this drainage did not work as well as it should.

A Dragon Shaft, in the vicinity of an engine raising water from the mine, conjures up a sense of the smoke and fire of the steam engines required in mine drainage – ‘dragon’ was an established metaphor for early steam technology, also seen in a pamphlet against York Buildings Waterworks’ engines in central London.[1]

Many of the mines carry names that allude to the element of luck involved in the metal mining industry. A mine was named and claimed on discovery, at which point it was still uncertain how rich it would prove to be. As a result, some of the names reflect the hopes miners would have had for their mine: Good Luck mine and Luck at Last evoke the ‘eureka!’ moment of a miner hitting a vein, while Who can tell grove and Hit and Miss mines were perhaps named by more weary miners.

Similar hopes are reflected in naming a mine after existing mines which were very successful. This explains the presence of the Potosi mine and sough, and the Golconda Mine in the middle of Derbyshire, both named after far-away places that had a mythical attraction to miners hoping to find similar riches. Luck and fate were important aspects in a miner’s life, as hitting a good vein could make the difference between poverty and riches. Signs and premonitions were taken very seriously as a result: Stafford’s Dream mine refers to a miner who had a dream of where the lead would be found – and indeed, there was a vein at the dreamt location.

Some mines seem whimsical and poetic, such as Peace forever, Stand to Thyself, Buy the Truth and Sell it Not. Others convey a sense of humour: Beans and bacon mine refers to the nearly Bacon vein, which was likely named after a miner (Bacon was a local name). Finally, in a 1980s case of premonition, there was a Wham sough and a Crimbo sough quite closely together – this cheered me up to no end!

Other names remain mysterious, such as Water Leg, Catchflee, Dogskin, and Sing-a-bed. Any thoughts?

 

Source: all mine and sough names were found in Dr J.H. Rieuwerts’ 4 volumes of Lead Mining in Derbyshire (2007-2012)

[1] Anonymous, The York-Buildings Dragons (London, 1726).

One comment

  • Marianna Dudley

    I wonder whether we should include a page of idioms from the 3 project foci in the book? As you say, they read almost like poetry, and though we’ll discuss them in the text of the book it might be nice to let them stand alone, as a litany of localness?

    The Severn terms for various fish baskets and nets are less descriptive, but highly localised, with terms altering slightly from county to county along the river bank. I’ll consult my sources and compile a list!

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